The Drive-By Truckers are making a nice career out of overcoming the impossible. In 2001, they released Southern Rock Opera, a two-disc concept album that linked redneck rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dixie-baiting Canadian Neil Young, and onetime Alabama governor (and full-time racist) George Wallace. And it didn't suck. On their new album, Decoration Day, they open with a folk ballad about incest that's not only sympathetic to its characters; it's also quite moving. (It's based on a true story about the only two people serving time in the U.S. for brother-sister consensual sex.)
Much of Decoration Day, however, stems from the grueling period around the recording of Southern Rock Opera and the tour that followed its release. "It was a marathon miserable process," says Patterson Hood, one of the band's three singers, songwriters, and guitarists. "We'd be on tour for three months straight, not making any money, and the state of our home lives was deteriorating further."
The plan for Decoration Day was simple, he says. "We had one rule: If it wasn't fun, we were gonna walk away from it."
And while the album's Stones-inspired riffing reflects the Truckers' determination to keep things relatively straightforward, its pair of trilogies about suicide (a buddy of the band's) and divorce (Hood's) are at the center of it. "Writing this record was pretty much what kept me from going totally off the deep end during the worst time of my life," Hood says. "By the time we recorded it, we all came out the other end of all the stuff we'd gone through."
Still, the Truckers -- who live in Alabama and Georgia -- retain their "southernness." Southern Rock Opera dispelled age-old myths (not all Alabamans approved of Wallace's methods of segregation; "My dad would go into a rant when he saw him on TV," Hood says) while embracing '70s rock -- Blue Öyster Cult, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, and Molly Hatchet all get shout-outs. Decoration Day extends the notion. "I get tired of people judging us on face value," Hood says. "It's much easier to deal with people on black-and-white terms. But nothing is black and white. There's more to everything than the surface stuff." The Drive-By Truckers are at the Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Road) at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $12 and $14, available by calling 216-383-1124. -- Michael Gallucci
The record-setting musical returns.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats has won pawfuls of Tony Awards since debuting 21 years ago, and it's still the longest-running musical in Broadway history. Though its New York and London productions shuttered a few years ago, the road show (itself a record-holder for the longest continuously touring play in the U.S.) is still meow-ing audiences. Cats is at E.J. Thomas Hall (198 Hill Street in Akron) at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $32.50 to $52.50, available by calling 330-972-7570. -- Michael Gallucci
Tastes Like Chicken
Suddenly, Last Summer is Tennessee Williams's most autobiographical play. In 1930s New Orleans, a girl watches a gang of hoods cannibalize her cousin. Her aunt, in turn, threatens to have her lobotomized (a fate met by Williams's sister). "It's about civilized people with savage material in their interior," says director Matthew Ozawa. It plays at 8 Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at Oberlin College's Little Theater, 67 North Main Street in Oberlin. Tickets are $3 to $7; call 440-775-8169. -- Cris Glaser
Lyle Lovett (right) has his quirks. The tall, lanky Texan with even taller hair makes country music that sounds nothing like the stuff that's played on the radio or CMT. He's been confounding listeners and radio programmers for almost 20 years now. Sophisticated arrangements and stylish singing are typical of Lovett's records. His latest, My Baby Don't Tolerate, is his first set of original material in seven years. And, true to form, it's a classy, witty, and smart album of torch and twang. Lovett and his band play the State Theatre (1519 Euclid Avenue) at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets range from $32.75 to $42.75. They are available by calling 216-241-6000. -- Michael Gallucci